Dallas Willard once said that if you’re right, it’s exceedingly difficult not to hurt anyone with it. In addition to that, I’ve personally experienced the dismal result of winning an argument but losing the relationship.
How many of you out there are like me and feel that you’re right most of the time? It’s a dangerous position to take and assume about yourself. For one, it negates learning. Most damaging, however, is that it produces arrogance. If you find yourself doing all the talking in conversations, I can assure you that there are less listeners present than you think.
I spent a few torturous moments the other night being verbally overloaded by someone who seemed to not realize that my constant “Hmm’s” and “Uh-huh’s” were not genuine expressions of interest. It’s a miserable experience to be stuck in a “conversation” that closely resembles a one-man game of tennis.
David James, my former boss and friend, is still the team leader for college ministry for Arkansas Southern Baptists. He, better than anyone I know, has perfected the beautiful art of asking questions. I was serving in a church in Texas when I visited with David at seminary one afternoon. He pounded me with questions about myself, my family, my philosophy of ministry, what I loved about God, and what I thought about this or that. It was an unusual experience, but I walked away that evening feeling like the most important person on earth. I couldn’t recall the last time someone had asked me about me and then genuinely listened.
Such an experience transformed how I still interact with people. I like to ask questions. I like to ask people deep questions. Questions that I know they will not be asked that month, that year, or perhaps even their entire life if I don’t ask them. It’s also a joy to listen, learn, and discover. It is nothing short of an epiphany to receive insight into a person through simple questions. You’ll also be amazed to see a person bloom right before your eyes.
People rarely, if ever, receive the opportunity, permission, and interest from another person to tell their story. And everyone has one.
For those of us who like to be right, I’d like to recommend a new trail to travel. Rather than defending a position or proving a point in conversations this week, how about asking some questions?
Here are some of my favorites:
- What do you like to do when you have free time?
- Who got you started in that activity?
- Who would you say has most influenced your life?
- What event in your life has most impacted your outlook on life?
- What’s been one of your greatest disappointments?
- What do you need today to be completely happy?
- What do you do with your belief or disbelief in God?
- What characteristic of God have you discovered to be most comforting?
- Who can you think of in our town that you’d like to know better and why?
The New Testament counsels us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” How I wish the person with verbal diarrhea had remembered that verse the other night.
One other thought… the one trait that must be cultivated in order to practice genuine interest and question-asking can be damaging to your selfishness. It’s the one trait that God loves most in people. It’s the one trait that we find most delightful in people we like but can’t explain why. It’s the one trait that promises to make you deeper, thoughtful, peaceful, and purposeful. It’s humility.
It’s hard to win an argument with humility. So best not try.